Friday, January 27, 2012

Responding to sexual exploitation

COMPASSIONATE CARE: From left, Macias-Konstantopoulos, Goldblatt-Grace, Gavin and Hobson

STAFF AT THE MGH play a crucial role in the lives of their patients. They are caregivers and often lifesavers – but sometimes kind words or reassuring smiles can be as important as clinical care. This can be especially true for young patients who are victims of sexual exploitation or human trafficking.

Panelists, including two representatives of My Life My Choice, spoke to MGHers on Jan. 11 as part of the MGH Domestic Violence Working Group’s presentation, “Heightened Awareness, Enhanced Response: A Discussion on Human Trafficking and Child Sexual Exploitation.” My Life My Choice provides prevention and intervention services to help adolescent girls in the Boston area who are most vulnerable to commercial sexual exploitation. “Many times when you’re in ‘the life,’ all you hear is that nobody will believe you,” says Tanee Hobson, My Life My Choice survivor mentor and group facilitator. “But so many times victims just want someone to say, ‘We know what you’re doing, but we won’t judge you.’ They want someone to say, ‘Stop. We don’t want you to go out there again.’ Or, ‘I won’t let you go out there.’ Even if you just say, ‘We care about you.’ They may listen. Just that extra little bit of time can make the difference in that girl’s life.”

Wendy Macias-Konstantopoulos, MD, MPH, of the MGH Department of Emergency Medicine, says there are a few key signs staff can look for when treating children who may be sexually exploited. Aside from the physical signs and symptoms of traumatic injuries or sexually transmitted infections, staff should be aware of more subtle manifestations – such as an excessively attentive, older companion who is reluctant to allow the child to answer questions or be interviewed alone. Other indicators are when the child appears to be submissive or fearful of a companion, provides seemingly overly rehearsed or inconsistent explanations for physical findings, or exhibits an exaggerated startle response to unexpected interruptions. If staff suspect a patient is being abused, they should directly contact the social worker assigned to their department or contact HAVEN (Hospitals Helping Abuse and Violence End Now) at MGH at 617-724-0054.

“What you do here is such an important experience for the girls we deal with,” says Lisa Goldblatt-Grace, co-founder and director of My Life My Choice. “There is a level of despair and hopelessness. This may be the one experience they have to deal with a caring adult.”

During the panel discussion, Sgt. Detective Donna Gavin, a 25-year veteran of the Boston Police Department, also reviewed the recently passed “safe harbor” law, which will introduce stricter anti-human trafficking laws and regulations.

For more information about My Life My Choice, visit

Read more articles from the 1/27/12 Hotline issue.


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